This weekend, Claire and I watched Gone with the Wind. I didn’t know if she’d like it, but I remembered watching the movie when I was about her age and falling in love with it. I mean, all those beautiful dresses! She told me that her best friend had watched it and said that it just had a lot of kissing in it. I told her that we could turn it off or fast forward it if she got bored. But she never got bored. In fact, at the intermission (around 11 pm), she wanted to keep watching, but we waited until the next morning. Afterward, she drew sketches of a woman in a big hoop skirt. I was just excited to introduce her to one of my all time favorite women in literature. No, not Scarlett, although she’s definitely an interesting one.
No, one of my favorite women in literature is Melanie Hamilton Wilkes – a truly great woman. Read this:
She saw in a flash of clarity untouched by any petty emotion that beneath the gentle voice and the dove-like eyes of Melanie there was a thin flashing blade of unbreakable steel. Felt, too, that there were banners and bugles of courage in Melanie’s quiet blood.
Don’t you love that? “…banners and bugles of courage in Melanie’s quiet blood.” It’s just so beautiful, and it’s the kind of person that I want to be.
It seems like all the books I read lately are about people overcoming the odds and facing their fears. Usually by defeating some evil person like he-who-must-not-be-named or an evil government or racism or the Destroyer or the narrow confines of 19th Century social mores. And I sometimes wonder how I can prove to myself that I have that same courage.
Then I read this quote from Helen Keller:
I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.
Melanie Hamilton Wilkes never really does anything amazing. Unlike Scarlett, who tramples Atlanta’s notions of a lady under both feet, she lives completely within what is expected of her as a wife, mother, and woman. But she never compromises her standards. She is always exactly who she presents herself to be, and I find that so admirable. She stands up for those she loves, even when her society (whom she also loves) says that they must be shunned. She refuses to shun them.
I doubt that Claire really picked up on how wonderful of a character Melanie was. In talking about the movie afterward, she was sad that Bonnie Blue Butler had died and that it didn’t have a happy ending. She loved the dresses and Scarlett’s gaudy mansion, and she didn’t think there was as much kissing as Lucy said there was. But she never mentioned Melanie, and I’m pretty sure I was the only one with tears in my eyes during those final scenes.
After all, Melanie had dragged herself from bed so soon after having a baby and had come to her aid dragging a weapon too heavy even for her to lift. That had taken courage. The kind of courage Scarlett honestly knew she herself did not possess. The thin steel, spun silk courage which had characterized Melanie on the terrible night Atlanta fell and on the long trip home. It was the same intangible, unspectacular courage that all the Wilkes’ possessed. A quality which Scarlett did not understand but to which she gave grudging tribute.
I hope I’m filled with that same quiet, unspectacular courage.
(And seriously, if you haven’t ever read Gone with the Wind, you are missing out!)